COVID-19 pandemic brings more enquiries to employee rights advisory service for immigrants

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the frequency of enquiries to the SAK employee rights advisory service for immigrants in 2020. About 100 more enquiries were received compared to the previous year, with more questions asked concerning pay and furloughs.
14.04.2021 13:59
Photo: Patrik Lindström/SAK.

This service, subsidised by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) and seven of its affiliated trade unions, received a total of 472 enquiries in 2020, compared to 378 in 2019. Service specialist Maaret Pulliainen believes that the increase was partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic

– Many immigrants work in restaurants and other service sectors that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. These employees are concerned for both their income and their health. For example, there were many questions concerning furlough, which is an unfamiliar arrangement for many people that is readily confused with dismissal.

Other questions concerned an employer’s right to dictate a change in terms of employment, such as working time.

Maaret Pulliainen finds that the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for migrant workers to have correct and current information in their own languages concerning employment issues and the ground rules that govern employment in Finland.

As in previous years, most contacts received by the service in 2020 concerned pay and outstanding wages, with 42 per cent of all enquiries focusing on this topic. The second most frequently asked questions were about termination of employment. At 25 per cent of all enquiries, this subject was slightly more prominent than in 2019. The third greatest cause of concern related to the terms and conditions of employment contracts (18 %).

– Uncertainties over pay are regrettably common among foreign workers, who are not always familiar with the collective agreements for their industries or the full scope of their entitlements. Employers may fail to pay various allowances such as bonuses for evening work or overtime compensation, even though the employee is entitled to these benefits.

While employees from a wide range of sectors contacted the advisory service last year, most enquiries still concerned the same types of work as in previous years: real estate services (18.8 %), tourism, restaurants and leisure services (15.5 %) and construction (10.7 %).

– These are all sectors where a lot of immigrants are working.

The employee rights advisory service for immigrants is Finland’s only free service advising immigrants and foreign workers on employment and trade union membership. You may contact the service by phone or e-mail, and there is no need to give your name or any personal details. The employee rights advisory service is also a remote counselling service of the International House Helsinki service point.